Spencer Buchanan

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Salt Lake City has always been home to me. I was born there, grew up there, and in the least have lived near it my entire life. Even though I don’t technically live in Salt Lake City, my life has been connected with it for as long as I can remember.

This is why when I first learned that the west side of Salt Lake City would be the beat for the semester, I felt a little nervous. Growing up in this area, the west side was always characterized as a sort of background space. Filler for the larger picture of the Salt Lake Valley. This made me nervous about writing about it because I didn’t think there was a lot to be “reported” on. I, like many Utahns, overlooked the west side.

However, soon after I started research for my stories, I found the area and the people who lived there not so far off from my own situation. I live in Magna, a smaller town, on the western edge of the Salt Lake Valley and like the west side of Salt Lake City, the residents there are often overlooked. Like the west side we’re known for being a thoroughfare, a part of town you don’t linger in and just make your way to somewhere else. I found that in many ways — culturally, demographically, and economically — my town of Magna and the west side share a lot of characteristics and many of the same issues.

This realization changed how I approached finding stories about the west side. Others in Voices of Utah have done so well to show and tell the unique culture of the west side. So I decided to focus on the economic and civic issues that the west side faces. And like my town, I found the west side often experiences the harsher consequences of broader economic and civic issues. Focusing on mutual issues gave me the benefit of seeing that we can often see our issues and space as the most important and unique, with issues that no one can really understand. Reporting on this beat, though, helped me see that many issues and problems are not unique to one place and that we can find mutual understanding and solutions when we can look outside our spheres.

Reporting on these mutual issues, I felt like I became more of an insider to the west side. I found the residents of the west side shared many of the same experiences I found in my town of being overlooked, and holding the brunt of larger societal issues like poverty, civic oversight, and representation. I felt like I shared much of the sentiment that I felt with those I spoke with on the west side.

In my few experiences in the past with reporting, I always felt more like an outsider because though the topics and issues I wrote on were interesting to me, they weren’t necessarily directly affecting me. I think most reporters can feel this way. They often report on things they don’t know about in places they’ve never been. But the issues and topics I focused on in this beat were things that had always affected relatives and me living in a similar situation to those on the west side. So this motivated me and invoked my curiosity to speak with people whom I wouldn’t have for a similar journalism class.

But despite my curiosity and the newfound connection I felt to issues of the west side, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to incorporate more of residents’ perspectives and not just those of community leaders, government officials, and experts. Those in leadership and academic roles often have good intentions but seem to be spread mentally thin on a lot of issues. They focus on broad issues, they have constituencies to please, agendas to fulfill, and papers to write. So, I feel many of my pieces are more “overlooking” that personal connection.

I’m glad, though, that I was able to discover a new part of my home while working on this beat. I learned a lot about how communities view themselves and how it’s important to slow down a little bit and focus on the things around us. I, like many others, ignore many of the people and issues that are just down the road from us. I’m grateful that I was able to be a part of this beat. To slow down and see a part of Salt Lake City in a new but familiar light.

ABOUT ME:

I was born and raised in Salt Lake City. I grew up in stories, from films, television, books and tales from my parents and grandparents. Stories about real people always fascinated me the most. My love of history is what drove me to journalism.

A teacher of mine in high school once said, “News today is tomorrow’s history.”

I started reading old newspapers and unlike my history textbooks, they felt more connected with the people of the time, they showed people’s personalities and gave me a better understanding of the sentiments of the era. Seeing this I felt like I should be a part of recording the history that was being made instead of just reading the old.

This drove me to major in Strategic Communication and study journalism. I still love history and it’s my hope to incorporate this into my writing career.